Instructors offer tips to make seasonal singing enjoyable for everyone

In are "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Out are "O Holy Night," "What Child Is This" and "Here We Come A-Caroling."

When getting a group of friends together and hitting the streets to sing Christmas carols, simpler is better.

"Ironically, 'Here We Come A-Caroling' throws everyone off, as people don't know the words as well as they think they do," said Aaron Kahn, a voice instructor at the Christopher Laughlin School of Music in Northbrook and a graduate of Glenbrook South's Class of 2015.

Lyrics are one thing, octaves another. Someone opening their front door with a handful of wet dish towels knows they're not getting Jessye Norman's "Ave Maria."

"Pick a key that's helpful, not too high or low for everyone's range," said Glenbrook South choir director Robert Shellard. "Make sure no one has to sing in the stratosphere or in the basement."

While certainly not as popular as buying gifts, sending cards or putting up a Christmas tree, a 2013 Pew Research study found that about 16% of Americans go caroling.

Kahn and Shellard are here to provide some tips.

First, the warmup. For the voice, Kahn recommends searching YouTube for one of the slew of videos posted on the topic. It's also fun to run through a simple "Feliz Navidad" as a group, or go once through the entire routine before heading out.

Kahn said if someone knows their way around a piano, the carolers could go through five-note scales. That technical stuff is probably less for the gang from pickleball and more for accomplished performers like Shellard's 23-member Glenbrook South Chamber Singers - of which Kahn was once one under former director Marty Sirvatka.

Keeping warm, including the vocal chords, is important. Dress warmly so cold December weather is not a distraction, Shellard said. Check the forecast, Kahn added.

"Even a light snow - you don't know what that could turn into," Kahn said, advising that in very cold temperatures a car is preferred to walking, and a 20-minute break to get warm periodically a good idea.

He also suggests bringing a tumbler of warm water with a little lemon and honey and wearing a scarf. Keeping hydrated helps the vocal chords, Shellard reminded.

On the route, people can also make buzzing "V" or "Z" sounds into their scarf to keep the voice warm.

Both instructors recommend preparing a set list ahead of time. Shellard said printing off lyric sheets and putting them into individual binders is helpful.

The Glenview Chamber Singers will learn the same 30 songs annually, he said. They'll perform some of those on Dec. 11 and 18 at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., for 15 minutes each, starting at Glenview Grind and then visiting other locations.

They'll also perform at Hackney's on Lake in Glenview, 1514 E. Lake Ave., from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Dec. 16-23, except from 5-7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, with no performance on Dec. 20.

For those of us who don't have Chamber Singers chops, Kahn suggests three to four songs per stop out of a set list of 10 tunes. Even for unpolished vocal groups, Kahn advised to "venture outside of neighborhoods," caroling at, say, an ice rink or Northbrook's Village Green Park, or asking permission from businesses to sing outdoors or even inside.

"Not only do you get to some more people potentially, but people also can't fade out," he said.

It's more important to deliver feeling than perfect pitch, Kahn said. Shellard noted, as Buddy the Elf would say, sing it loud for all to hear.

"Nobody wants to hear a mouse sing," he said.

The main tip is just to enjoy the holiday spirit.

"First and foremost, it's to have a good time," Shellard said. "That is also the last one on the list, is have fun. To really enjoy what you're doing, not only for yourself but for those you're performing for."

For the very ambitious caroler, period dress may be part of the presentation, as it often is for the Glenbrook South Chamber Singers. Courtesy of Robert Shellard
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